HAINES CITY — Mayor Morris West settled into a chair among more than a dozen energetic pre-kindergarten students at Kids Academy Learning Center USA on Thursday and began reading “Martin Luther King Jr. Day” by Margaret McNamara.
“I want to hear your dream after I read this book to you,” West said.
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In the story, several children share their ideas for improving the world like King did. One student in the book wanted to end fighting, another wanted people to stop littering, while another wanted everyone to be healthy.
“Doctor King was a great leader because he had great dreams — very big dreams about how to make the world a better place,” West told the students. “Your dreams could be how can you make the world a better place.”
Both the mayor and Vice Mayor Horace West — the mayor’s brother — have a close connection to the childcare center. They attend special events throughout the year at the Lily Avenue building and the vice mayor’s grandson and namesake has also gone to classes at the academy.
“Do y'all have fun in the Early Learning Coalition and Miss Iris’ school here?” Mayor West asked to shouts of "Yes!" from the students. “Do you love your teacher, do you clean up behind each other? So that's three dreams that we've already accomplished.”
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Iris Padilla, co-owner of Kids Academy Learning Center USA, said she is delighted the mayoral duo are committed to helping Haines City’s youngest residents not only learn their ABCs, but about good values, too.
“We are so blessed that we have such great leaders like Mayor West in our community that do so much for us," Padilla said. "When they take the time to come and see what our preschoolers are learning it tells me that they truly have an interest in our future, because it’s right here with all of these preschool children.”
Early Learning Coalition of Polk County CEO Dr. Marc Hutek agrees and hopes the Wests inspire future leaders.
“Mayor West’s investment in our children is greatly appreciated and highly impactful,” Hutek said. “It seems today more than ever our children need opportunities such as this to learn how our nation’s history has created the world we live in. It’s never too early for children to dream of what they can accomplish and I’m so glad they get to share with others.”
When West finished reading, the students drew pictures of their dreams, which included having a family of their own one day, children who are treated with kindness, and good grades. Some even lobbied the mayor for a beautiful playground with lots of slides and ladders.
The Early Learning Coalition of Polk County handed out copies of the books to all the students. The ELC is a non-profit organization that offers free child-care resources and referrals to all families seeking quality and affordable child care options and resources.
The Coalition supports potential and current providers, offers information about starting a new child-care business, and helps current providers enhance their programs. The ELC also supplies providers with information about the free Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten and School Readiness programs.
Ledger reporter Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Haines City mayor reads about Dr. King to Pre-K students